Bacchus: grape or god? – Ask Decanter

A reference to Bacchus wine appears before the grape was developed - so what does it refer to...?

Bacchus: grape or god? – Ask Decanter

Steven Daniels, by email, asks: Ernest Hemingway wrote of ‘Bacchus wine’ in his 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms. I have read several articles that say the Bacchus grape was developed around 1933.

Is there a different type of ‘Bacchus wine’ or is there is a mistake in the timeframe of origination?

Michael Hart, research assistant for the Hemingway Letters Project, Pennsylvania State University, replies: In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway makes several rapid-fire mentions of ‘Bacchus’ towards the end of Chapter 7; however, here he refers not to a particular kind of wine or a grape, but rather the Roman god of wine and ecstasy, known for inspiring ancient Roman Bacchanalias – festivals that included parades, theatrical performances, and copious consumption of wine.


See also: Where does Bacchus wine come from and what does it taste of


In this scene, the novel’s protagonist, Frederic Henry, is convinced to prove his drinking abilities, ‘by the corpse of Bacchus’, in a revelrous night of wine guzzling.

But just as Bacchus inspires revelry, he can also provoke destruction. In a bid to outdrink his companions, Henry misses an appointment with Catherine Barkley, his lover, straining their already tenuous relationship.

This question first appeared in the February 2019 issue of Decanter magazine.


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